I approach my prayer life rather in the same way I approach housecleaning. Which is to say:
Clearly, I like to think about ways of doing it, systems, etc. much more than I like to do it. So a lot of times, when I decide "It's time to clean house!" what I really do is sit down and make a list of what needs to be done and a schedule by which I should do it, and before long the time is up and I have to do something different.
Also, my living space looks pretty tidy enough most of the time, except dead in the middle of the school day or when we're having a party. It's 7 am and the kids aren't up yet, so my evening routine still hasn't been disturbed. The floor is more or less clear of clutter, the kitchen counters are mostly empty except for a tray of chocolate-filled breakfast buns and a coffeemaker, the children's books aren't all in the shelves but they are at least in a neat pile on the floor by the couch. I'm pretty sure there isn't a bunch of junk on the bathroom counters, and the schoolroom is fairly orderly.
But if you looked closely at the kitchen counters you'd find some sticky stuff and crumbs, if you looked closely at the floor you'd find more sticky stuff, if you looked around the couch you'd find it had been a long time since the last vacuuming, and please don't open any cabinets or closet doors, nor look too closely at the rim of my toilet.
Somewhere in one of those drawers there's an old schedule reminding me that I was going to swipe the toilet with a brush every Wednesday morning. Or maybe it was "make a kid swipe the toilet." I don't remember. It felt good to write it down. Much better than actually doing it.
So. My prayer life is like that too.
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A humorous analogy suddenly comes to me: The Liturgy of the Hours is like Flylady for slobby prayer.
Do with that what you will.
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Oh, and one more thing: I like blogging about cleaning more than I like cleaning. And I like blogging about praying more than praying. And apparently, blogging about cleaning and blogging about praying makes me feel a sense of satisfaction similar to what I imagine I might feel had I actually cleaned, or prayed. Remember that next time you get impressed at my organizational skills. They are really just a finely tuned means of procrastination.
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But I never will be cured, I think, of the attempt to fix my sloth/acedia through better planning. Since I did the Marian consecration last month, I have been trying a number of new things. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that I have been trying to look at the old things through a new lens.
I hit upon this idea to make myself a handwritten prayer-book.
Last year, when I read through Introduction to the Devout Life (lots of posts on that here), I wound up carrying a well-dog-eared copy around everywhere and using it as a prayer manual for a while. The many sections are not organized as a prayer book, but they give a method of morning prayer, a method of evening prayer, recommendations for confession, recommendations for preparing to attend Mass, etc., and I found it useful to refer back to the book often. Note that the book didn't actually provide "prayers" as much as it did a "method of prayer." But I like to have "prayers," so eventually, I sat down with de Sales's method of morning prayer and I wrote out a formula that followed the method but was in my own words. Well, some of St. Francis deS.'s words and some of my own. I kept that sheet of paper next to my bed, which freed me up to keep the book in my handbag.
I used that morning prayer for quite a long time. I still use a memorized short excerpt from it many days. ("Behold, O Lord, my poor heart which has conceived many good desires yet is too weak and wretched to put them into practice unless you grant Your heavenly grace. This I beg, O Merciful God, through the passion and resurrection of Your Son, in whose honor I consecrate this and all my days.")
St. Louis de Montfort's book True Devotion to Mary contains a method called "This Devotion at Holy Communion" which suggests some ways to pray before, during, and after Communion. I tried to follow along in the book a couple of times while I was in Mass but found it too cumbersome. Because it doesn't exactly contain prayers but more an instruction on how to pray, and it's wordier than it has to be. So finally I sat down and wrote out some pithy prayers that, if I prayed them, would be in accord with de Montfort's method. (It was a little better, but I still need to tweak it. The Mass follows a different rhythm now than it did in the saint's time, and it's harder to slip long personal prayer into it. The intent of the vernacular Mass is, after all, for us to pray along with the Mass.)
I looked around at Mass and of course I always see many people thumbing well-worn prayer books and Magnificat issues and breviaries and things during the wait to go up for Communion or after communion or just before or just after Mass. (I wonder how long before people will dare to use their Kindles and iPhones to access prayerbook apps in Mass? I've seen people do it in the adoration chapel.) But I know from experience that I get distracted by a thick book of prayers. What I need is a book of just exactly the prayers I am working on using. A morning prayer, an evening prayer, a short method of meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, a thanksgiving after Mass.
So I got me a little Moleskine, the cheaper, thinner, brown-paper-covered kind, and began writing prayers down in it.
I like it. There are dozens of "morning prayers" to choose from; I can put in just the one or two I really am likely to use, plus I can write out my "own" one that I developed from St. Francis's method. I can copy out prayers in Latin that I would like to learn. (Working on the Anima Christi right now.) I can write out an examination of conscience that leaves out the sins I am not likely ever to commit, and thus saves time.
I think once I have it filled up I will want to do another draft. Already I have crossed out and rewritten a few sections that turned out not to sound right, that I kept wanting to say differently. But in the meantime I am finding it fruitful to have my own words, or at least words chosen by me, at my fingertips.
Let me give you one example. So, one thing I've never been in the habit of doing is kneeling to make a prayer of thanksgiving after Mass. (I was never catechized to do it, and although there are always some people that I see praying after Mass in the pews, of course most people are up and socializing, even at my solidly orthodox parish.) I went looking for something, and OH MY they are loooong. There is no way I could realistically do any of that with the four kids all wanting to get downstairs before the best doughnuts are gone. So just as a practical matter I needed a short one.
For the time being I used the "Hail Holy Queen" as a placeholder while I tried excerpting some of the longer ones, and I tried composing my own. But what kept popping into my head was a musical antiphon from one of the psalms: "How can I make a return to the Lord for what he has done to me?" I didn't know which psalm, so I googled it, and found that it comes from Psalm 116.
The whole psalm isn't really what I was looking for, but the second half is. So I used just a few verses from that Psalm as my Thanksgiving After Mass:
How can I repay the LORD for all the great good done for me?
I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
Dear in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his devoted.
LORD, I am your servant, your servant, the child of your maidservant; you have loosed my bonds.
I will offer a sacrifice of praise and call on the name of the LORD.
I figure it works as well as anything else. Having looked for a prayer with a Marian flavor, I liked the "child of your maidservant" bit.
Anyway, I have a number of more prayers to add to the little book before it has everything I need on a daily basis, but it does seem like a good start, and I'm already using it regularly. I'm totally going to recopy it more neatly, though, when I've got it all together. Because that will be something I can do one of these days to put off actually praying. Naturally.